Contact sports participation has been shown to have both beneficial and detrimental effects on health, however little is known about the metabolic sequelae of these effects. We aimed to identify metabolite alterations across a collegiate American football season. Serum was collected from 23 male collegiate football athletes before the athletic season (Pre) and after the last game (Post). Samples underwent nontargeted metabolomic profiling and 1131 metabolites were included for univariate, pathway enrichment, and multivariate analyses. Significant metabolites were assessed against head acceleration events (HAEs). 200 metabolites changed from Pre to Post (P < 0.05 and Q < 0.05); 160 had known identity and mapped to one of 57 pre-defined biological pathways. There was significant enrichment of metabolites belonging to five pathways (P < 0.05): xanthine, fatty acid (acyl choline), medium chain fatty acid, primary bile acid, and glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, and pyruvate metabolism. A set of 12 metabolites was sufficient to discriminate Pre from Post status, and changes in 64 of the 200 metabolites were also associated with HAEs (P < 0.05). In summary, the identified metabolites, and candidate pathways, argue there are metabolic consequences of both physical training and head impacts with football participation. These findings additionally identify a potential set of objective biomarkers of repetitive head injury.
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